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Soc Sci Med. 2011 Sep;73(6):833-42. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.05.055. Epub 2011 Jul 28.

Listening to Lyrica: contested illnesses and pharmaceutical determinism.

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1
Oregon State University, Sociology, Fairbanks Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331, United States. kristin.barker@oregonstate.edu

Abstract

Fibromyalgia syndrome is a debilitating pain disorder of unknown origins and a paradigmatic contested illness. As with other contested illnesses, the reality of fibromyalgia is disputed by many physicians. Thus, millions of individuals who are diagnosed with fibromyalgia must cope with chronic symptoms as well as medical and public skepticism. In this context, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration's approval of Lyrica, the first prescription medication specifically for the management of fibromyalgia, is of considerable interest. In this paper I examine the cultural logic whereby the existence (and marketing) of an officially approved prescription medication for a condition lends support to the biomedical existence of the condition itself. I label this logic pharmaceutical determinism and argue that it represents an important new phase in the proliferation of contested illness diagnoses. Using the case of Lyrica, I describe the role that pharmaceutical companies and pharmaceuticals themselves play in promoting and legitimating contested diagnoses and validating those who are so diagnosed. Through a narrative analysis of the Lyrica direct-to-consumer advertising campaign and the responses of fibromyalgia sufferers to the introduction and marketing of Lyrica, I demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between the interests of the pharmaceutical industry, contested illness legitimization, and medicalization. I also provide a gender analysis of this relationship, foregrounding how contested illnesses continue to be shaped by their feminization in a cultural context that equates women with irrationality. Finally, I address the consequences and limitations of relying on the pharmaceutical industry for illness validation.

PMID:
21840638
DOI:
10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.05.055
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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